Monday, February 13, 2017

Gujarat govt admits slow progress in land allocation to tribal farmers, sends identical letters rejecting claims

A tribal hamlet in Gujarat surrounded by farmland
By Rajiv Shah
In a sharp admission, a Gujarat government resolution (GR) has said that there has been "slow progress" in measuring land under the possession of tribal farmers in South Gujarat, one reason why there is a failure to hand over cultivation rights to them under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.
Under FRA, 2006, those cultivating forest land as on December 13, 2005 would become rightful owners of the land their land.
The GR, which is based on a recent meeting held in Gandhinagar Sachivalaya, with the participation senior officials of forest and tribal departments, heard the state tribal secretary as admitting that "there has been strong opposition from the local people of Tapi and Valsad disricts" to measurements by the agencies appointed by the state government to carry on the job, one reason for the slow progress.
"There is lack of support", the GR, a copy of which is with Counterview, admits, adding, "As a result, officials are unable to enter villages, leading to law and order problems.”
The GR talks of "solving" the problem by taking the help of senior police officials to ensure early land measurement and provide cultivation rights.
Gujarat govt GR
The Gujarat government's sharp admission about "slow progress" in measuring tribal farmers' land comes amidst of an Ahmedabad-based NGO, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), working in the field of social lawyering, collecting information of rejected claims of 142 tribals from South Gujarat's predominantly tribal Dangs district.
The rejected claims – copies of which are with Counterview – show that the official wordings for all rejections are identical for each of the 142 official letters sent to tribal farmers. In fact, each of the official letters appear to have been photocopied and sent out to each of the 142 claimants.
Each of the official letters says that the tribal farmer has “failed” to provide (1) at least two proofs showing that the land was being cultivated before December 13, 2006, as required by FRA, 2006, and (2) the satellite imagery does prove that the land was under cultivation before that date.
Explains CSJ's senior activist Azima Girach, “First of all, it is not necessary to provide the satellite imagery. In fact, the satellite imagery, under the law, is to be used as a proof only if other proofs are not available. Secondly, as you can see in the claim letters, not two, but several proofs have been provided to show that the land was being cultivated before December 13, 2005.”
A random examination of the official letters rejecting the claims show that the proofs include, apart from the caste certificate, the voter ID card, the ration card, the housing tax bill, the village elder's certificate, the witness' certificate, the proof of land development and tree cultivation, official spot inquiry proof, and the photograph of the cultivated land.
Says Girach, “As the matter for all the 142 cases is pending since 2011, the tribals are willing to approach the court of law against such en-mass rejection. We believe there must be many more such cases.”
GPS image of tribal land
Another NGO, Ekalavya Sangathan, making a spot inquiry based on GPS mapping in tribal-dominated Dahod district's village Parmarni Khakhariya village, Limkhed taluka, has found that out of 165 tribal cultivators, just 31 land rights have been cleared, while a whopping 134 claims have been rejected.
Claims Paulomee Mistry of Eklavya Sangathan, "Each of the tribals provided valid proof, and our GPS mapping proves that. The GPS file which we have resubmitted for reconsideration provides details of farmers' record book, map from Google Earth, GPS map, and GPS statement of measurement."
Meanwhile, facts provided by the Adivasi Kisan Sangharsh Morcha (AKSM), working in South Gujarat, show (click HERE to read) that just about 10,363 tribals received cultivation land rights certificate during the period. Till now, AKSM says, in Gujarat 73,921 tribal farmers have received cultivation rights, while 1,08,948 claims are still pending.
Comments AKSM's Romel Sutariya, “The state tribal department GR accusing the tribals for opposing land measurement is a cowardly. It only shows that the state BJP rulers are desperate in gaining tribal votes ahead of the Gujarat state assembly elections, scheduled for December 2017.”

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